Food & Diet

8 Foods That Are a Natural Defense against Depression

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Depression is classified as a mood disorder. Symptoms include lack of interest in anything, even daily activities and a prolonged feeling of sadness. Long term therapy is suggested for depression, as it is not something you can simply “snap out of”. Some patients may be given medication to ease the symptoms and allow them to be able to go on with daily life. In tandem with therapy and medication should be a change in diet, one that addresses any deficiencies that may be causing hormonal imbalance in the patient. Below are some of the kinds of foods that may help hasten recovery.


Meat is rich in the serotonin precursor called tryptophan. Tryptophan is a water soluble amino acid. Amino acids are building blocks of protein. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, which means that you need to get it from your diet because your body cannot synthesize it. A diet rich in protein, whether animal or plant derived, can boost tryptophan levels in the blood. Food rich in tryptophan are pork, beef, poultry, sunflower seeds and cottage cheese.


Yes, it is important to eat protein to maintain normal levels of tryptophan in the blood to be able to synthesize serotonin. But if that is the case, then why do tryptophan and serotonin levels drop after a protein packed meal? – After a high protein meal, all of the tryptophan along with its competing amino acids is racing to enter the brain, and because of the presence of the competing amino acids, only a small amount of tryptophan gets through and serotonin cannot be synthesized.

When you eat carbohydrates, the mechanism mentioned above is circumvented. Eating carbohydrates causes your body to release insulin. Insulin allows all other amino acids to be absorbed by the body, except for tryptophan. Tryptophan remains in the bloodstream and can now be used for serotonin synthesis.

Remember to be picky about your carbs, however, as low quality “junk” carbs can cause your mood to crash. Opt for complex carbs like quinoa, sweet potato and whole grains instead.


Vitamin B6 influences the rate at which tryptophan is converted to serotonin, and by eating foods rich in vitamin B6 you can ensure steady levels of serotonin in the bloodstream. B6 is a co-factor for the enzyme that transforms tryptophan into serotonin. To stave against depression, include vitamin B6-rich foods in your diet, such as sunflower seeds (a 100g serving will contain 67% of your daily need for the vitamin). Other foods rich in B6 are pistachios, tuna, poultry (turkey and chicken), lean pork and lean beef.

4. SPINACH: FOLATE (Vitamin B9)


Many studies, including the ones that date as far as the 1960’s, have found that a third of depressed individuals experience folate deficiency. It turns out that folate is part of a complex pathway that synthesizes SAMe or S-adenosyl methionine in the body. SAMe works as an anti-depressant in humans. Some studies have also associated folate deficiency to low levels of serotonin in the cerebrospinal fluids of patients with neuropsychiatric disorders.

Dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, collard greens and Swiss chard are an excellent source of folate. Followed by all types of lean meats, including turkey and white chicken meat. Folate is also an ingredient in most multivitamins, so it is possible to ingest it even if you are not a fan of veggies.


How vitamin B12 deficiency causes depression is relatively unknown, but scientists have suspected its significance in depression for a long time. Just like in folate deficiency, a significant number of depressed patients have been found to be lacking in vitamin B12 and other B-vitamins. Other consequences of vitamin B12 deficiency include chronic tiredness, sore tongue, easy bleeding and bruising, and weight loss.

Vitamin B12 is commonly found in animal products and by-products, such as eggs, milk and cheese. For this reason, B12 deficiency is a common problem amongst vegetarians. For vegetarians, B12 fortified soya milk and cereals are now available on the market.


One of the theories about depression is that it may be caused by impairment in neurotransmitters. This may be why patients who suffer from neurological damage can sometimes have behavioural problems.

A way to make sure that your brain cells are in tip-top shape is to include turmeric in your diet more often. Turmeric is a deep yellow rhizome that is related to ginger and is used a lot in India as a spice and in China as herbal medicine. Curcumin, the pigment responsible for the yellow to orange pigment in turmeric, has been found to encourage brain recovery after strokes.


Ever wonder why chocolate is such a pick-me-up for a lot of people? This is because dark chocolate (60% cocoa and above, not the sugar laden kind!) is rich in magnesium. Magnesium deficiency has been linked to crankiness and moodiness. The mineral, which is also found abundantly in leafy greens, helps regulate the releasing of stress hormones which could intensify the symptoms of depression. Numerous case studies have also shown rapid recovery from depression upon administration of magnesium supplements.


5-HTP is the direct precursor of serotonin. This variation of the amino acid tryptophan does not occur much in nature and will not be readily found in our diet in the 5-HTP form. Recent advances in science have made this available to us by extracting 5-HTP from the Griffonia simplicifolia plant which can only be found in West Africa.

This serotonin precursor is preferred over tryptophan. Mainly because unlike tryptophan, 5-HTP does not compete with all the other amino acids for absorption, it can freely travel through the blood-brain barrier and is readily converted into serotonin.

One of the symptoms of depression is lack of appetite, but it is important to understand that wholesome and proper nutrition is crucial for a complete recovery – even from mood disorders.